Title: The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books
Author: Azar Nafisi
Release Date: October 21, 2014
Genre: Nonfiction, Social Studies
Rating: 4 out of 5
In the fashion of Reading Lolita in Tehran, author Azar Nafisi turns her sharp literary eye to her adopted country of America, closely examining three different books: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Babbitt, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter to discuss the culture of the United States.
A gorgeous and moving read about American culture through the prism of three modern classics, The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Novels is a thoughtful work of literary criticism that shows how novels remain relevant long after they have been published.
Azar Nafisi’s latest nonfiction book delves into an investigation of the United States, closely looking at different aspects of American culture through the lens of three different American classics. The book is structured into three sections featuring the three books—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Babbitt, and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Each section also deals with a different aspect of American culture.
The first, and in my opinion the most effective, is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In this section of The Republic of Imagination, Nafisi discusses the sense of American freedom and the spirit that American culture seems to be imbued with, juxtaposing this against the story of Nafisi’s close friend, who spoke out against the Islamic regime in Iran and has recently died. It’s a beautifully written testament to her friend, as well as a thoughtful analysis of Huck’s search for a sense of self over the course of the book. (In retrospect, this might have been the most powerful section of the book for me because it’s the only one of these three American classics I’ve read.)
The second part of The Republic of Imagination deals with Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis, which Nafisi uses to discuss the Common Core Standards in the United States and how they are crippling the American education system. While this section was certainly interesting, it was so focused and topical that it was a little jarring and blended less with Nafisi’s overall exploration than the other two sections of the book. Still, it was certainly interesting, and though I knew most of the criticisms leveled at the programs, it certainly would be eye-opening for anyone not familiar with Common Core.
Finally, in the last section of The Republic of Imagination, Nafisi tackles The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, a book I know little about. I found this section fascinating, and while I found the Huck Finn discussion the most effective in terms of getting the message across, it was this third part I found the most interesting, simply because I learned a lot. Nafisi discusses in detail how the characters in this American novel are singular in their loneliness and want nothing more than to connect with others, a state that many Americans find themselves in. This discussion made me intensely curious about The Heart is a Lonely Hunter; I’ll definitely be reading it in the near future.
If you enjoy reading works of literary criticism and are curious as to how classic novels can be made relevant to our modern-day lives, then The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Novels is absolutely a great choice. It’s interesting how Nafisi often focuses on the central theme of escapism in American literature, and how so much of the United States’ culture is based on imagining something better, something grander. Nafisi is a beautiful, thoughtful writer, and this is a fascinating read.